Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil collector and expert in paleontology from Lyme Regis in Dorset, England.  Among her most notable discoveries were an icthyasaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur (“saury” – won’t describe the ancient creatures here but you get the drift!) All important finds and instrumental in proving the theory of extinction: ancient species had existed at one time, in an age of “dinosaurs”.  Mary is a fascinating character in history, respected now for her extraordinary contribution to modern day understanding of prehistorical life and geographical history but challenged with a lack of recognition in her day due to her gender and low social status.  As an aside, she was also the inspiration behind the verse: “She sells sea shells by the seashore”.

Two accomplished writers were motivated to explore and capture Mary’s story in fiction for the rest of us to enjoy and, coincidentally, at just about the same time. The books were published within a few months of one another early in 2010. Curiosity by Canadian writer Joan Thomas is enjoying many accolades and celebration; it was  long listed for the Giller prize and named The Vancouver Sun’s inaugural selection in its new on-line book club.  Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier has also been reviewed positively and I’m sure will be picked up by those who’ve enjoyed her other terrific books: The Virgin Blue, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Burning Bright and others.  I’m an enormous fan of her writing.

Each of the authors took a distinct approach to imagining Mary’s story. I think this makes a great opportunity to read both and compare the versions of her so-called life – perhaps a good Book Club task for one of those longer spells between meetings. If one had to choose to read just one based on the cover alone, which would you select?  Let us know what you thought if you’ve already read one or the other. Click on the book covers to be taken to the authors’ websites and note the similarity there. You’ll find great information on each site.

 in·trep·id (ĭn-trěp’ĭd) adj. Resolutely courageous; fearless, brave, bold. See Synonyms at brave. (1627 (implied in intrepidness ), from L. intrepidus “unshaken, undaunted,” from in- “not” + trepidus “alarmed.”). Additional synonyms: audacious, gritty, gutsy, heroic.

I happened upon word of a wonderful endeavour in our fair city a month or so ago and it’s been dwelling in my thoughts ever since.  Our little blog here seemed like the perfect spot to launch a conversation about it and perhaps even inspire a flurry of action. While I dallied, sorting my thoughts and words, The Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier coincidentally both printed related articles this week. The focus?  The Intrepid Pens.

The Intrepid Pens is a creative writing workshop and book club based at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Cordova Street in Vancouver. Founder, facilitator and nurturer of the group, Amanda Grondahl  encourages the women living with addiction, poverty, and homelessness to engage their creativity and self-expression through writing of their own. She also gives them an opportunity to explore and discuss novels of the group’s choosing. In her own words from her blog she says: ” … how amazing it is when 15 (or so) women get together to talk, read, write, share, laugh, and grow; how group members’ writing has improved; how group members’ confidence is soaring; how some are sharing their stories for the very first time; how beautiful it is that those who struggle with reading or writing are read to by fellow group members – their work transcribed for them, and read aloud by their friends; how we’re learning through reading and healing through writing; how several group members have already been published, and how group members talk with excitement about writing more, learning more, and doing more…” Amanda believes there is a “quiet magic” taking place within the group. She is adamant that the women are as important to her as she might be to them and fondly speaks of “my ladies” as she writes “… we are a little family of writers and readers and friends now. …”      


Amanda makes it clear that she is enormously grateful to a number of sponsors, friends and families who offer help, support and donations. There are a few very easy ways in which Bedside Table Books and our readers can give The Intrepid Pens a little boost of encouragement too:

Firstly, Amanda and her fellow Intrepid-ers have applied to the Pepsi Refresh Grant Campaign with hope of qualifying for $25,000.00 toward their cause. The grants are based upon the number of supportive votes each applicant receives. Please take the time to add your vote by clicking here and then crossing your fingers that the group is selected to receive the money. Voting deadline is October 31st.

Secondly, The Intrepid Pens have need of the following:

  • Novels (new or used copies)
  • Writing supplies (journals, notebooks, and pens)
  • Bus tickets for transportation around the city (Adult 1-zone Faresavers)
  • Money (for books, supplies, food and drinks, transportation, field trips, and special events)

As readers, many in book clubs, you might like to review the Intrepid Pens’ impressive book list (they are reading great stuff!) and see if you have any copies you’d like to donate. If your book club or a group of your friends has recently read one of the list entries then suggest anyone not wishing to keep her copy share it with the Intrepid ladies. Another option is to shop for a few copies and send them along.

I hope this fine venture and its story captures your hearts as firmly as it does mine.

Visit the website for The Intrepid Pens here and follow their story or make contact.

You may recall another special book club in an earlier post this year. Read The Word is Their Bond from March 12th.

 Here is a wonderful (possibly even awesome!) story of a devoted teacher, Luis Humberto Soriano, who finds a way to bring books to children who otherwise would not have access to them in rural Colombia.  This video shows how the children’s love of learning and of books is ignited through his mobile “book club”.

An excerpt from an article at CNN where Luis Soriano was nominated as one of the CNN Heroes of 2010:

“Soriano, 38, is a primary school teacher who spends his free time operating a “biblioburro,” a mobile library on donkeys that offers reading education for hundreds of children living in what he describes as “abandoned regions” in the Colombian state of Magdalena…

“I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load,” Soriano said. “I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools…

Every Wednesday at dusk and every Saturday at dawn, Soriano leaves his wife and three young children to travel to select villages — up to four hours each way — aboard a donkey named Alfa. A second donkey, Beto, follows behind, toting additional books and a sitting blanket. They visit 15 villages on a rotating basis…

More than 4,000 youngsters have benefited from Soriano’s program since it began in 1990. Soriano says countless others have been helped, too; parents and other adult learners often participate in the lessons…”


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